Man Charged For Arson Attempt at Preschool

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( – Prosecutors charged a 36-year-old man for allegedly attempting to set fire to a preschool and a mall in California. Jonathan Barajas Nava, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, was indicted in the Central District of California and is charged with two counts of attempted destruction of property by means of fire.

The incidents occurred on the afternoon of April 24 in Yucaipa in San Bernardino. Several people called 911 and reported seeing a man at the Retreat Church and Yucaipa preschool with a canister of gasoline, which he poured over the church entrance and set it alight. Witnesses rushed to the scene and stamped out the flames before telling police that the suspect fled the scene in a pickup truck.

Later the same day, further 911 calls described a fire at a strip mall near the church. Court documents describe the mall as containing several businesses, including an optometrist’s office, which appears to have endured the bulk of the damage.

Deputies later said that both fires were started using gas and a lighter, and in the second instance, witnesses described seeing a man in a pickup truck apparently caught in chain fencing. Police arrived, and as an officer approached the vehicle, it burst into flames. Nava jumped from the truck and was pulled to safety by the law enforcement officer, who later arrested him.

The FBI reported that 48 children were in the preschool at the time of the incident, as well as 14 staff members. There were no injuries, however. Nava was detained without bond to appear at the US District Court in Riverside on May 28.

The suspect was also arrested in 2022 and pleaded guilty to setting fire to an Albuquerque church. Police found his driver’s license around a mile from the church, and his vehicle matched the description of a car seen close to the crime scene. When authorities approached him, a high-speed chase ensued, during which Nava fired at officers and crashed into several vehicles.

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